29 November 2018
The Eighteenth Century expressed through Candide
Candide, by Voltaire, is the story of a young, naïve, illegitimate son of a nobleman in Westphalia, Germany. Candide follows the optimistic theories of his tutor, Dr. Pangloss, whose mantra is that “all is for the best in the best possible worlds (Taylor).” Throughout the story Candide suffers a series of horrific adventures of war, injustice, cruelty, slavery, and intolerance that challenge Pangloss’ optimistic teachings. Voltaire wrote Candide from his country estate, Ferney, outside Geneva. He wrote his characters as symbolic figures: Candide represents optimism; Cunégonde, the search for love; Pangloss, the pointlessness of metaphysics; Cacambo, friendship and loyalty; and Martin, negativity (Taylor). Each character represents an abstract idea during the Enlightenment period. Voltaire uses the rhetorical device of irony, saying one thing but meaning another, and absurd suffering in the novel to bring the readers to recognize the evil in the world. Voltaire was upset that the Enlightenment era did not live up to his expectations. Voltaire correctly depicts the culture of the eighteenth century throughout his satirical novel; talking about the tragic earthquake in Lisbon that led to the horrific auto-da-fé; his thoughts on Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz’s absurd philosophy; and how he used the legend of El Dorado to express his feeling of money. Voltaire was born as François-Marie Arouet on November 21, 1694, in Paris, France. He was the youngest of five children but only had three surviving sisters. When he was seven years old, his mother passed away. After his mother’s passing, Voltaire grew closer to his godfather who was known to be a free-thinker. Voltaire received a classical education at the Collége Louis-le-Grand, a Jesuit secondary school in Paris, where he began showing promise as a writer (Voltaire). Voltaire established himself as one of the leading writers of the Enlightenment era. His well-known works include the tragic play Zaïre, the historical study The Age of Louis XIV and the satirical novel Candide. Voltaire embraced Enlightenment philosophers such as Isaac Newton, John Locke and Francis Bacon; he found inspiration in their ideals of a free and liberal society, along with freedom of religion. Keeping with the Enlightenment thinkers of the era, he was a deist; the religious belief that God created the universe and established a reasonable understanding of moral and natural laws but does not intervene in human affairs through miracles or supernatural revelation (Voltaire). Voltaire was often at odds with the French authority over his politically and religiously charged works. He was twice imprisoned and spent many years in exile. Finally, being able to return to Paris, he shortly died in 1778 (Voltaire).
In 1755 Lisbon rivaled Florence, Rome and Venice in its wealth. New explorations opened routes to India, allowing Lisbon to become one of Europe’s richest cities. Eighteenth century prints show Lisbon as a city of wealth, a skyline full of towers and palaces (Hagman). However, all of that quickly changed on All Saint’s Day, November 1, 1755, when an earthquake felt from Ireland to Morocco hit Lisbon. The earthquake hit a 9 on the Richter scale. Then at 11 a.m. three tidal waves between 15 and 20 feet crashed into the city, hurling everything and everyone in its path (Hagman). Finally, the destruction was completed with a fire: “Whirlwinds of fire and ashes covered the streets and public places; houses fell, roofs were flung upon the pavements, and the pavements were scattered. Thirty thousand inhabitants of all ages and sexes were crushed under the ruins (Voltaire p).” After the earthquake, Europeans began to think “was it a natural occurrence or was it caused by divine wrath (Hagman)?” With the fear of the earthquake being divine wrath, leaders wanted all heretics gone. Due to the earthquake, Lisbon became famed for its auto-da-fé, meaning “Act of Faith (Graizbord).” Voltaire writes, “After the earthquake had destroyed three-fourths of Lisbon, the sages of that country could think of no means more effectual to prevent utter ruin than to give the people a beautiful auto-da-fé; for it had been decided by the University of Coimbra that the burning of a few people by a slow fire, and with great ceremony, is an infallible secret to hinder the earth from quaking (Voltaire p).” Since the age of enlightenment included a range of ideas centered on reason, people believed that there must be a cause for the effect of the earthquake. The auto-da-fé took place on June 20, 1756, due to the thought that nature did not cause the earthquake, but a being caused it and the inquisition would purge all heretics to protect another earthquake from occurring (Graizbord). In the novel, Pangloss is used as an example for the cause of the earthquake and is questioned for his optimistic thoughts after it hit, saying, “all that is is for the best. If there is a volcano at Lisbon it cannot be elsewhere. It is impossible that things should be other than they are; for everything is right (Voltaire p).” The Grand Inquisitor questions Pangloss on his philosophy, asking him, “you do not then believe in liberty (Voltaire p)?” The inquisitor believed Pangloss to be a heretic due to his optimistic philosophy and would later fall victim to the auto-da-fé. The novel Candide was published four years after the terrible earthquake and the auto-da-fé. During this time, the philosophy of optimism no longer seemed valid to Voltaire. Voltaire uses Pangloss, the philosopher of optimism, as a way to show readers that optimism had failed. The auto-da-fé is a man-made disaster while the earthquake is a natural one explaining that there is nothing moral about this and all is clearly not well in the world.
Voltaire writes Candide’s mentor and philosophical advisor, Pangloss, based off the German philosopher Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz. Leibniz, a German mathematician and philosopher, was born in the city of Leipzig on July 1, 1646 (Mercer). In 1652, at the age of six, Leibniz’s father, Friedrich Leibniz, passed away. Following his father’s death, Leibniz, as a young boy, taught himself Latin and read poetry, history, theology, and some Aristotelian philosophy in his father’s library (Mercer). Later in life, he made important contributions in numerous fields including mathematics, physics, logic, ethics, and theology. He also worked as a diplomat, an engineer, an attorney, and a political advisor. After his death, his reputation as a philosopher depended on texts that were unpublished, including some text that was never intended for publication (Mercer). Unlike many philosophers of the enlightenment period, he composed no complete exposition of his philosophical theories. Instead he wrote more pages of his philosophy than most scholars can read in a lifetime, which were unorganized, unedited, and undated (Mercer). In Candide Pangloss teaches the philosophical idea that “everything is for the best in this best of all possible worlds (Voltaire p).” This idea is a simplified version of Leibniz’s “best possible world” philosophy. Leibniz’s “best possible world” philosophy is his claim that the actual world is the best of all possible worlds, and his philosophy shows his attempt to solve the problem of evil. Christia Mercer, Leibniz’s bibliography author, explains Leibniz’s philosophy by stating, “On Leibniz’s account, God causes evil, for God creates the best series of things, including many things that are, when considered in themselves, bad or sinful (Mercer).” To Leibniz, the existence of any evil in the world would have to be a sign that God is either not entirely good or not all-powerful, and the idea of an imperfect God is absurd (Mercaer). Dr. Pangloss’s philosophy parodies the beliefs of Leibniz, that the world was perfect and that all evil in it was simply a mean to a greater good. Voltaire does not accept that a perfect God must exist, and he mocks Leibniz’s idea that the world must be completely good and provides a merciless amount of mockery on this idea throughout the novel (Mercer). An example of Voltaire mocking Leibniz’s idea occurs while Candide, Pangloss, and the Anabaptist James travel to Lisbon, and are suddenly struck by a terrible storm. Several men, including the charitable Anabaptist James, were thrown overboard by the storm and drowned. Candide begins to jump over to save the Anabaptist James, when suddenly Pangloss told him not to and, “demonstrated to him that the Bay of Lisbon had been made on purpose for the Anabaptist to be drowned (Voltaire p).” The whole ship had perished except Candide, Pangloss and the villain who had drowned the Anabaptist James. Voltaire is emphasizing the ineffectiveness of ordinary metaphysics when Pangloss is confronted with the problem of evil. The drowning of the honorable Anabaptist James emphasizes Voltaire’s view, that people live in a world where there is no justice; a world in which villains expect to prosper, while righteous souls like the Anabaptist James should anticipate nothing for their good deeds.
The legend of El Dorado was about a wealthy city of gold and the king who ruled over it. The story began after the first Spanish explorers landed in Central and South America. The Spanish explorers aimed to conquer the Americas to find new sources of wealth. The Spanish called the king El Dorado—The Gilded One— because his body was gilded or covered in gold (El Dorado). The legend tells the tale of a rich king who plastered his body with gold dust and then dived into a sacred lake to wash it off. The king would later toss gold into the lake as an offering to the gods. The tale of the wealthy king spread, and the city came to be known as El Dorado. The meaning of El Dorado would eventually change to describe any mythical region that contained great riches (El Dorado). The early myth of El Dorado was placed as a city near Lake Guatavita, a lake formed in a volcanic crater not far from modern Bogota, Colombia. The story was based on the Muisca king who covered himself with gold dust, boarded a raft in Lake Guatavita and made offerings to the gods. Many explorers such as the Spaniards and Germans searched the region in 1538 but failed to find El Dorado. The explorers went to extreme methods to find El Dorado, including their attempt to drain the lake in an effort to locate gold (El Dorado). The locals at the time did not appreciate explorers tearing through their city, so they claimed that the legendary city was somewhere far away in the hope that the Europeans would search elsewhere and leave them in peace. Explorers spent years in South America in hope of locating the golden city. Due to the explorers attempt to find the golden city, several bloody expeditions were launched to find this imaginary kingdom (El Dorado). In Candide, Cacambo and Candide spend several days on a canoe when suddenly they crash into rocks and landed in a large plain, bounded by inaccessible mountains. Cacambo, Candide and the travelers who journeyed with them walk to the village they saw from the river and were amused by looking at the large round pieces of yellow, red, and green on the ground, which casted a soft glow. A few of the travelers picked up these larges pieces and they quickly realized the ground they walk on was covered with gold, emeralds, and rubies. Candie later meets the Master of the Horse to the King and explains they are in Peru, and the kingdom in which they now inhabit is the ancient country of the Incas. The Incas wanted to conquer other parts of the world, and that is why their empire had been ended by the Spanish. Due to this, the princes of their new kingdom were to never leave in the hopes they can keep their riches from prying Europeans. The Master of the Horse to the King says, “The Spaniards have had a confused notion of this country and have called it El Dorado; and an Englishman, whose name was Sir Walter Raleigh, came very near it about hundred years ago (Volatire p).” Voltaire writes about Candide accidently landing in the city known to be El Dorado by the Europeans, while explorers such as Sir Walter Raleigh spent years trying to find the golden city. Throughout Candide’s journey in El Dorado, Voltaire reminds his readers of some destruction that has been brought by gold fever. He compares the destruction caused by gold fever to the destruction of humanity during the Enlightenment era. How people care to much about money and status and if people could forget about rankings the world would have peace, instead of people thinking gold leads to spiritual perfection. Voltaire’s ideal world is a place where gold has no value. El Dorado is extraordinarily wealthy, but they do not cling to their wealth, and are happy to share it with newcomers.
Voltaire was upset that the Enlightenment era did not live up to his expectations and uses Candide, philosophical and religious parody to express his thoughts about the earthquake in Lisbon and how it led to the auto-da-fé; his thoughts on Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz’s absurd “best possible world” philosophy; and how he uses the legend of El Dorado to express his feelings about money. Voltaire correctly depicts the culture of the eighteenth century. In Candide people believed that the earthquake struck due to a cause, whether it be God or heretics. He correctly depicts the eighteenth century by using the auto-da-fé to reflect how the people truly believed that nothing happens without a cause. Voltaire compares Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz to Pangloss, to express the absurd philosophies of the Enlightenment period. There were tons of idea’s and beliefs going around during Enlightenment period and Voltaire picked what he thought to be the most absurd, to express the philosophies of the time. Finally, the legend of El Dorado correctly depicts how the people of the Enlightenment period were corrupted by the desire for money believing that it will lead them to spiritual perfection. In the end Voltaire compares Candide rejecting Pangloss’s optimistic teachings to himself rejecting the Enlightenment era and moving on with his life.
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